I am in my first year at a new school this year, which among other things, means I am being formally evaluated for the first time in a while. I like to think that there is no difference in who I am as a teacher between the years I am being evaluated and the years that I am not. In the years I am being evaluated, I just talk (and write and document) about what I am doing a bit more. I am also a little more likely to give a side eye when an evaluator is in my room to the students who might be more likely to utilize some of the mathematical cussing that I may or may not have taught them. Oh shift, they can be some real asymptotes sometimes.
I have sat through many pre- and post-observation meetings, discussing my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve analyzed the language in the Danielson Framework for Teaching and broken down each of the domains. If you are ever having a hard time falling asleep at night, I highly recommend reading up on the Danielson Framework. You’ll be out before you finish 1a) Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy. I’ve collected the data, analyzed it, and completed formal write-ups. The math teacher in me secretly loves the data part of it just a little bit. I’ve debated 3’s and 4’s, proficient and excellent. I’ve questioned what I can do better, do more of. I’ve self-evaluated my strengths and weaknesses. The former straight-A student in me spent a few hours of my life that I’ll never get back realizing that the only way to get that allusive “Excellent” across the board is to give up sleeping, eating, socializing, and probably just take up a full time residence in my classroom.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think evaluating, reflecting, and remembering that there is always room for growth and improvement. In year 6 of teaching, I see how far I have come from year 1 and how far I could go. I would do a thousand things differently, but I also recognize all that I have done that I am proud of in my classroom. Heck, that’s a part of 4a) Reflecting on Teaching!
However, reflecting on the evaluation process has me reevaluating what is most important in my classroom. Sure, my students better be learning a heck of a lot math. While they are doing that, I hope I am helping them become critical thinkers, problem solvers, effective communicators, and ethical, life-long learners. But sometimes I need to remind myself that some of the most important things in my classroom can’t be checked off of a to-do list. They don’t show up in one of the four domains. They are little, unmeasurable things that can’t fit nicely into a rubric. That might make them all the more important to do.
I am repeatedly reminded that I have the opportunity to show my kids kindness, compassion, grace, and patience. And I’ve never once regretted embracing that opportunity, even if it has been really hard to do. Teenagers are the most human bunch of humans to ever human. What I mean by that is that they are far from perfect. However, they are in the midst of really figuring out what it means to be human in this world, which every full grown adult in this world will tell you is a never ending and truly challenging thing to do. I take several very deep breaths throughout my day. I have plopped myself down in many a coworkers classrooms at the end of the day and started with, “YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT THIS CHILD DID THIS TIME” and not in a good way. However, every chance I have the opportunity to be cruel, I try to be kind. When I have the chance to be cold, I try to choose compassion. I try to choose patience, even when it is tested. Sometimes I can’t see the big picture and I wonder if it really matters. It could be so much easier to do the opposite. It also seems that in those moments, that’s when a memory, a note, a trinket, a visit, or a message from a former student appears, reminding me that embracing those opportunities every time I could was absolutely the right thing to do, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. There’ll be plenty of times where the world does not show them kindness, compassion, grace, and patience. I don’t need to add to that. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll extend the same courtesy the next time they have the choice too.
Sometimes I feel like from 7:45am-3:15pm, I don’t get a moment to myself. Every once in a while, that can be a bit challenging. We all need a moment, especially if I’m going to recharge my patience. However, I’ve recognized that there is something special about a student spending even a moment more with you than they need to. Whether it’s a quick good morning en route to their class, a goofy wave on their way to the bathroom from another class, the “I’ve got a story to tell you!” when I’m trying to get to the bathroom, checking to see if I’ll be at their play/concert/game, the “I don’t know what to do with my life” lunchtime freakout, the before class “CHECK OUT MY DONUT SOCKS! I KNEW YOU’D APPRECIATE THEM!” or “I’ve had the worst day ever” after school slump, I am reminded that it is wild that I get to be a person these students want to share these things with and it must mean I’m doing something right.
I read something once that said students learn best from teachers that they like. Although I think there is a lot of truth to that, I think students learn best from teachers who like them. Nowhere on the evaluation rubric do you get to discuss liking your students. Every year, people ask me how my students are. Every year, regardless of the course I’m teaching, the environment I’m in, the grade level I have, I find myself saying, “I’ve got a really good group this year.” It’s never a lie or just what I’m supposed to say. Every year, I just feel like I get to spend my days with the niftiest group of humans. Some days it is a little more obvious than others, but at the end of the day, I just like them a whole bunch. I have been known to sit down with my class rosters at the end of a particularly rough day and go through student by student and think of something nice to say about each and every person in a class. It’s always easier than I think it will be. I also make a deliberate effort to send positive emails home where I just tell families how nifty I think there child is. At the end of every email, I find myself typing “I’m really glad I get to be their teacher.” I made a rule with myself that I’m not allowed to send those emails unless my heart is really in it. It can’t be something I need to do to cross off of my to-do list. I’ve noticed that since I’ve started doing this, it’s easier to see the good in every student on a daily basis.
So I’ll finish this formal evaluation cycle. I’ll continue to fill out the forms, have the conversations, side eye my students into good observations, collect the data, and so on and so forth. However, in the midst of all of that, I won’t lose sight of evaluating what really matters in my classroom and beyond.